Tips from Monolingual Mom in Bilingual Home

From the moment the test read “pregnant,” it didn’t take long before I was sitting on a plane reading about the OPOL method and other strategies for giving one’s child the gift of two languages.

Friends asked me about birth plans and attachment parenting, but I researched precious little of the topics concerning my other mama friends. I was fascinated by language development and raising a bicultural baby.

The only problem? I don’t speak Spanish. I was relying on my Guatemalan husband to make my bilingual baby dreams come true.

Maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to be monolingual in a multicultural world, but I highly valued passing on both Spanish and English to our daughter. With her nearing 2 and 1/2 and our second bicultural baby on the way, I realize I have learned a lot these past couple of years about what not to do as the monolingual parent in a bilingual home:

Badger the Bilingual

“Speak Spanish!” was my mantra to my hubby that first year… right after “Why are you crying?” which was directed to my new baby.

It’s lonely talking to a baby when they don’t understand or engage. Part of our sanity through the infant days was speaking on her behalf.

I realize now that my husband wanted me to understand what he was saying to her… when he was blessing her, sweet-talking her or mocking her. (Yeah, we’re all-star parents!) We were learning to be a parenting team, and my nagging him to dis-include me held no appeal.

Take Over  

This is a different manifestation of #1. But when I wanted to “subtly” remind my husband to speak to her in Spanish, I would get the ball rolling myself. This strategy was is ill-advised since I’m not fluent.

I had to provide my husband space to take ownership of our child’s Spanish language learning. As she has begun talking more, he enjoys hearing her repeat the Spanish words he teaches. Also, since she’s decidedly favoring English, he has a renewed sense of personal passion to teach her Spanish to communicate easily with family and connect to her culture.

Complain About Being Left Out

One of my worries from the very beginning of our bilingual journey was feeling like a stranger in my own home. I envisioned my husband and our teenagers sitting around the dinner table, joking in Spanish and laughing, while I pushed peas around my plate.

The other day my daughter spoke her first uncoaxed mixed-language sentence, and that fear resurfaced. For as passionate as I am about her becoming bilingual, I want so desperately to be involved.

So I’m working on my own Spanish. Hearing it more at home definitely helps, but I still know her fluency will quickly surpass mine.

Raising a bilingual, bicultural family is a joy I encourage anyone to undertake. Hope these tips help you make the best of your journey!

{Photo by basykes}

SarahQuezadaSarah Quezada lives in Atlanta with her Guatemalan husband Billy and their daughter Gabriella. She blogs about cross-cultural marriage and family life, immigration, and multicultural identity at A Life with Subtitles. You can connect with her on Twitter (@SarahQuezada).

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